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Diachronic continuity

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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ProfArguelles
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foreignlanguageexper
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 Message 1 of 17
21 January 2005 at 2:21am | IP Logged 
I would love to get a consensus from those who are so interested in learning languages that they particpate in a forum such as this as to whether or not they consider historic versions of given languges to be separate languages or not. That is, do you believe Old English, Middle English, and Modern English should be considered one language or three languages? Likewise for Althochdeutsch, Mittelhochdeutsch und Neuhochdeutsch, usw.
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manna
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 Message 2 of 17
22 January 2005 at 4:12am | IP Logged 
You want us join one of the big linguistic debates? When I was younger I thought that mutual intelligibility was the key, but then, much of that comes down to willingness and the actual phrases used.

I've met a young man from Brazil who was really interested in a young woman from Italy. It took him not more than two weeks to learn to understand and speak Italian.

On the other hand, I've met Chechs who cannot understand Slovaks (since *those* are different people and we have nothing in common) but can understand some Russian (a close friend). So much for motivation.

Now, as for the phrases, I can make a Swiss German phrase people from Germany cannot understand because I (consciously, but it could happen by chance) choose vocabulary which is not shared with the standard German. Is it a separate language? - In most cases a person from Germany *can* understand what I say (that includes those from the north)...

Where is the boundary? I don't know.

Edited by manna on 22 January 2005 at 4:13am

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Thomaskim
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 Message 3 of 17
22 January 2005 at 8:35am | IP Logged 
[QUOTE=Ardaschir]   That is, do you believe Old English, Middle English, and Modern English should be considered one language or three languages?

I'm not entirely sure what you mean by one language or three languages. However, languages being a living and evolving entity, I think it is safe to compare languages to the life of a human being. In many respects a 90-year-old person maintains traits and characteristics of the child that s/he used to be. That said the evolutionary process spanning over 80 years has contributed to the mixing and merging of other elements. Old English is as good as unintelligible to the modern English reader with no knowledge of historical linguistics (or Icelandic!!). That is made even more complicated when you think the evolution from Old English to modern English (from Shakespeare onward) is a much longer process than the the average life span of humankind. In other words, it is still the same language (you can still recognize something, but just like looking at an old black and white photograph, the older person has changed so much that they could easily be two different people.

When it comes to intelligibility, Middle English is somewhat more accessible. The Norman influence (after 1066) is mainly responsible for the huge lexical gap between Old English (Germanic to its very core) and Modern English.

Have you read Beowulf in its original 'tongue'. As a Scandinavian major, I find it extraordinary that Danish gives me more insight into it than present-day English!
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Thomaskim
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 Message 4 of 17
22 January 2005 at 8:52am | IP Logged 

'I've met a young man from Brazil who was really interested in a young woman from Italy. It took him not more than two weeks to learn to understand and speak Italian'.

As a native speaker of Italian (and speaker of Portuguese as well) I find it hard to believe that a Brazilian can learn to speak Italian in 'no more than two weeks', his love for the Italian beauty notwithstanding ;)

While it is true that educated speakers of both Italian and Portuguese can understand one another without great difficulty - willingness (as you rightly pointed out) permitting, this can happen by using one's respective language and perhaps by adapting the speed and choice of synonyms. However, learning to speak (properly) each other's languages is a far more time-consuming and daunting matter.

It is indeed common - the mind boggles as to why - that given a room full of speakers of Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, the will consistently try to speak a broken version of any of the three languages (or a mix of them) rather than using the more sensible Scandinavian way of speaking one's own language and passively enjoying the others - thus avoiding the embarrassing way some Italians keep adding 's's to every Italian word to make it sound like Spanish!
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ProfArguelles
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foreignlanguageexper
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 Message 5 of 17
23 January 2005 at 8:35am | IP Logged 
Certainly, let's enter one of the big, insoluable debates, although this is really going off on a tangent from what I initially asked.

When it comes to defining a langauge, there are two possible criteria: 1) mutual intelligibilty, and 2) political reality. The first is appliced to uncharted territories, the second to established ones. I.e., a linguist going into "darkest" Africa defines language borders on the basis of communication, while someone charting the tongues of Europe respects academies and kings.

I myself have "learned" both Swedisch and Italian in about two weeks time each, so I know that it is possible. Likewise, on the basis of considerable linguistic experience, it is unfathomable to me how natives of closely related languages to these two can claim to not understand them. I.e., northern Swedes who say that can't get Danish or Mexicans who say they feel lost in Bacelona. However, I do know these people. Likewise, I see everyday that companies of all sorts feel it necessary to print their instuctions in every specific tongue, and I know that, e.g., Swedish books are published in Norwegian "tranlation" for the Norwegian market, and vice versa. Economics does not lie. Most people who speak these tongues cannot understand each other, though put them together in a room with a Russian, let alone a Korean, and there is no doubt with whom them would be communicating in short order.

That said, yes I can and have read Beowulf and Chaucer in original, because I have studied, them, which was my orignal question. I could certainly not read the first on the basis of my modern English, and the second would be a fog. Even Shakespeare would largely be a case of "false understanding," i.e., I thiink most speakers of modern English would think they understand him, but upon closely reading the notes to any good edition they will realize that they do not.
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Thomaskim
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 Message 6 of 17
23 January 2005 at 12:15pm | IP Logged 

I myself have "learned" both Swedisch and Italian in about two weeks time each, so I know that it is possible.

What is your definition of 'learning'? Do you mean you learned some Swedish and some Italian? Or do you mean you learned how to converse in them?

I disagree when you say a Northern Swede should not be exempted from failing to understand spoken Danish.
As a learner of Swedish, do you understand Danish?

Danish and Swedish remain two separate languages. The pronunciation of Danish has evolved so much faster than its neighboring 'sister' languages, that it is perfectly plausible for Northern Swedes - who have on average little or no contact with the Danes - to be at a loss when a native Copenhagener rattles off in rapid-fire Danish.
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ProfArguelles
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foreignlanguageexper
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 Message 7 of 17
23 January 2005 at 5:43pm | IP Logged 
This is how I learned Swedisch and what I meant by "learned." I was invited to give a lecture at the University of Lund, where I spent about a week. When I arrived I had never studied the language in any fashion whatsoever. However, I was thoroughly versed in Germanic philology, having stuided all the older and medieval tongues (Gotisch, AHD, MHD, OE, ME, etc.) and indeed written my doctoral dissertation on Old Norse literature. On the basis of this, and on the basis of my English and German, I found that I could understand quite well what was being said all around me. I never opened my mouth in Schwedish while I was in Lund, but I kept my ears glued wide open, and I purchased Langenscheidts Praktisches Lehrfuehrer Schwedisch and began working systematically through it. The professor at Lund recommended that I give the same lecture at the university of Stockholm, so I extended my stay for another few weeks. On the train from Lund to Stockholm, I ventured to speak for the first time, to two children. Since they understood me, I was brave enough to address their mother as well when she returned to the compartment, so it really "worked" from that point. I spent a few days in Stockholm, conversing mainly in Svenska. I then went up to Jokmok and did a homestay, speaking Svenska and only Svenska for about a week. From there I went even further North to an isolated cabin in the woods where I stayed for about four days, which I spent going over and over the Langenscheidts readings and forcing my brain to eschew any thoughts that were not in Svenska. Though I had my own cabin, meals were served at common tables in a dining hall, and there I conversed as much as I could. It was there that I was first told that I spoke the language "fluently," though I would never have made that claim myself. When I told them that I had been in their country for two weeks, they did not believe me and thought that I meant that I had been there for two years. One of the other guests was Danish, and she had to try to speak Swedish because the others could not understand her. However, I got her to speak some to me, and it wasn't impenetrable. When I returned to Lund on my way back to Berlin, the jaws of all my acquaintances dropped when they heard how "fluently" I spoke, though again that was their claim and not mine, for I heard how continuously I butchered the irregular verbs. One of my acquaintances was from Copenhagen, so when I had a protracted conversation with her alone, I asked her to speak only Danisch to me. It was certainly more challenging, but still I can certainly say that as a learner of Swedish, I understand Danish. After I returned to Germany, I systematically worked through the Assimil courses in Swedish to add polish (especially the 2nd volume, which is really a cultural immersion course that parallels their advanced formats for major languages). I practice speaking whenever I get the chance, which is unfortunately not often, but while there I bought a complete recording of Gosta Berlings saga intended for blind native speakers, and I periodically "shadow" this entire book. Reading Swedish was never a problem at all, and I thoroughly enjoy not only Selma Lagerlof but also medieval literature such as Svenska Medeltidens Rim-kronikor.

On the basis of my French, Spanish, and Latin, I had a very similar but even easier experience learning Italian. I.e., I went there, listened for a day or so before opening my mouth, and then I just spoke, sounding very Spanish at first, but constantly and consciously molding my speech to conform to that of those around me. I have subsequently put quite a bit of time and effort into bringing my overall command of this important Romance branch up to the level of my others, but I can honestly say that I first "learned" it upon my first visit to Rome.
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Raistlin Majere
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uciprotour-cycling.c
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Speaks: English*, Spanish*, Catalan*, FrenchA1, Italian, German
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 Message 8 of 17
24 May 2005 at 6:59am | IP Logged 
Ardaschir wrote:
I myself have "learned" both Swedisch and Italian in about two weeks time each, so I know that it is possible.


I suppose, Ardaschir, that it was very important for you to have this old Germanical and Ancient Norse, etc. background and knowledge. How longer do you think you would have needed to learn Swedish if you had started from zero?


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